Love’s Boundaries

paul forziano hava samuelsWe’re often kept apart from those we love by distance. Time. Asswipes who drive the speed limit in the far left hand lane of the freeway.

There are those I love who have been kept from having their love recognized by the government — a practice that’s seeing its own sea change.

But today — my mom sent me an article that showed me a new boundary on love.

KHOU in Houston’s coverage of the story offers this:

With the beaming smiles of newlyweds, Paul Forziano and Hava Samuels hold hands, exchange adoring glances and complete each other’s sentences. Their first wedding dance, he recalls, was to the song “Unchained …” ”Melody,” she chimes in.

And later:

“She’s very beautiful and she helps me,” Forziano says of his new bride.

But Paul and Hava can’t live together. See, they are husband and wife under the laws of New York State, but they each live in separate group homes that provide housing and services to those in the lower range of intellectual functioning. Forziano has an IQ in the range of 50 to 58, and Hava’s is in the 50 to 54 range. By day, they spend time together in a performing arts education center, which is where they met. But by night, they each must return to their respective group home.

Forziano’s home says that they’ve denied the request for cohabitation on grounds that those who live in group homes “are by definition incapable of living as married people.” Samuels’ home has denied the request because it “believes she doesn’t have the mental capacity to consent to sex.”

And yes, the couples’ families are fighting (there is a lawsuit pending that would allow Paul and Hava to live together). But here’s where I ask: when will this end?

When will our preoccupation with labeling the right kind of love go the way of the Chia Pet and New Coke?

When will we cease being so arrogant and embrace that love isn’t something that can only happen between specific people, races, genders, and those whom have only known one another for an “acceptable” time?

And before some troll comes along with a filthy remark about “retards reproducing” (yeah, I used the R-word), let me offer this:

Have you ever sat in front of a person who’s mentally handicapped? Have you held his or her hand? That “retard” you’re afraid will reproduce if people like Paul and Hava should have sex and beget a child will probably be the kindest, loving, and accepting human being you’ll ever be fortunate enough to meet.

Probably kinder than you’ve been in the entirety of the past 7 days (or maybe 70 years) you’ve spent on this planet.

When will it end?

When will we stop being the arbiters of love and start being the ones who say that love is what makes this world better? It doesn’t matter who has it for whom. It doesn’t matter a mental capacity. And I’ll prove it.

My first husband was in full possession of an IQ that would be classified as fully-functioning by any mental assessment. This didn’t stop him from holding me up against our bedroom wall by my neck. And it sure as hell didn’t stop him from threatening me once he’d found out I’d contacted a divorce attorney.

And I married that guy. That fully-functioning, in-complete-possession-of-his-mental-capacities guy.

Which is why reading this article about Paul and Hava this morning made me cry. Because Paul and Hava most likely have a kinder love than I ever experienced in my four years with that “fully functioning” man. And from what I see with some selected Facebook stalking, that guy has gone on to reproduce a few more times since I exited his life. Jesus — and we’re worried about Paul and Hava getting it on?

Love is love. And the next story I want to read about Paul and Hava is the interview after they’ve been living together for a month as husband and wife — as two people whose lives are made better because the other is near. I want to hear what they say about waking up feeling the other’s body warmth. Hearing the other say, “Good morning.” About each being the last thing the other sees before they fall asleep and the first thing when they rise.

Samuels says she fell for her future husband because he was funny; she particularly liked his “knock-knock” jokes.

But her eyes begin to well up with tears when asked about her current living situation. “I’m not happy,” she says. “We live apart.”

And they live apart because — while we purport that we’re an evolved society — we’re still one that gets off on telling other people what they can or cannot feel or do. Out of our own fear, ignorance, or whatever other excuse-du-jour we’re willing to conjure up.

So, here’s what I ask today:

Paul lives at Maryhaven Center for Hope. Their mission statement (clearly visible on their website home page) is: “Our vision at Maryhaven Center of Hope is to improve, enrich and respect the lives of people with special needs. We promote each person’s highest potential by encouraging all aspects of growth. We are committed to creating opportunities and delivering quality services throughout life’s journey.” All aspects of growth? Really. Oh — and they’re the ones who say that because Paul lives in a group home, he’s not mentally capable of living as husband to his wife even though the State of New York says he’s mentally capable of entering into a marriage contract. Here’s how to contact them via mail and via phone (I’d say blow up the Administrative Offices line).

Hava lives at the Independent Group Living Program in Manorville, NY. They also have a super shitty Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since September of last year. Here’s how to contact them. Oh — and they’re the ones who think that a Hava’s not mentally capable of entering into a consensual sexual relationship with Paul, even though the State of New York says they’re mentally capable of entering into a marriage contract.

And maybe you’ll do nothing — your choice. But I ask: What if you were kept from the one you love because someone else said you’re not “capable” of loving that person?

Bullshit, my friends. Grade A, undeniable bullshit. This shouldn’t be a lawsuit that’s costing two families a shit ton of money. What have we come to as a country when we’re fucking around with determining who can live together instead of building a country healthy enough to support every kind of love we have the audacity to imagine?

PS: if you want to catch a glimpse of Paul and Hava, click here. Isn’t that beautiful?

15 comments
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Why don't the families take them out of the group home system and let them live as a married couple in one of their homes? That would solve the problem, and cost a lot less than all the lawsuits.

SophieLatulippeOuellet
SophieLatulippeOuellet

I am glad you are covering this (and you do it so beautifully). You know, there are also elderly couples who are put in separate homes at the end of their lives... I think, perhaps, n a way, such an ability to love is very disturbing for some "normal" people whose heart is frozen. My closest friend, a social worker with cerebral palsy, had a boyfriend for 20 years and people were critical of their love until she died, God bless her soul, at the young age of 45 years old. I believe that, in some ways, the emotional pain that comes from living with a disability in. a society that hasn't "evolved" as much as one would like to think, softens the heart and opens it to a deeper kind of love, and as always, one is quick to "put a dimmer" on a light that shines too bright... Love, Sophie, (www.sophiesvoice.com)

JamesTaylor2
JamesTaylor2

WAY To GO! Thanks Erica, as a person who advocates for the intellectually disbaled, it is awesome to have your support for people in shitty situations like this! Hope your voice makes a tiny but huge change in these folks world!

Cris Gladly
Cris Gladly

I so love you. And I so love your vigilante ways. This is a good post and good advocacy ... and for all your f-bombs hurling, you have a heart of f*cking gold! 

This was so poignantly positioned, Erika. Those of us in "acceptable" relationships often exhibit some o the most unacceptable behavior of all. It seems the ones most adamant about regulating love are the ones who understand and express it the least. 

BlairGlaser
BlairGlaser

Wow Erika. I rarely leave comments, but this one moved me to. I was saddened to hear more traumatic detail about your past experience with the ex, the separation of Paul and Hava, and felt moved to take action and let you know here.

alysonwy
alysonwy

This saddens me more than I can express. I am a social worker and I currently work with individuals that have developmental disabilities. Many of the individuals my agency supports are married, living together and some are raising children. All of them have IQs under 70. I have seen a lot of different psychological tests and I have never come across one that measures the ability to love. It varies from state to state on how progressive services for disabled individuals are. Some states still have state run institutions and others, like mine, have no institutions and all support services are provided in the community. We recognize that these individuals are just that individuals, people, like you and I. We all have challenges, some are just listed in the DSM. I challenge these agencies running these homes to think outside the box, look at what other states are doing. Quit coming up with excuses for why they can't be married, why they can't love, and come up with ways to help them learn.

SophieLatulippeOuellet
SophieLatulippeOuellet

A lot of persons with disabilities cannot live on their own. I am Canadian and I don't know the details of ADA. Some people are physically unable to take care of themselves, or, in the case of a cognitive impairment, constant supervision is essential. I sincerely believe that there is a viable solution for cases like the one that Paul and Hava are facing. However, it will not be easy and will require people to open their heart and think outside the box....

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano moderator

@Cris Gladly This: "the ones most adamant about regulating love are the ones who understand and express it the least." That is a Rachel Maddow-worthy quote if ever I read one. Damn straight.

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano moderator

@BlairGlaser Things happen -- it's why you and I both have job security :) But one thing I've never understood is the presence of pain and hate where there should be love. Moreso, those who actively choose to inflict the pain.

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@SophieLatulippeOuellet I didn't suggest they live alone. 

i suggested they move in with either his or her family so they can live together until married housing is available. 

Their families planned the wedding, took them to get a marriage license, and paid for everything, but didn't make sure they had the proper housing available to them before the wedding. They could have waited on the wedding until married housing was available, or made arrangements for the couple to live with one set of parents (with adequate care, provided by their Social Security) until housing became available. Bringing a lawsuit against a nonprofit, attempting to force them to accept married couples when they're not set up to do so is ridiculous.

 The people who are forcing this couple to live apart are the parents who didn't provide for them.

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@SophieLatulippeOuellet @tweet_fail Actually, I do. Not everyone who has a disability feels like they are a victim. Not everyone with a disability demands that everyone make special rules just for them. We all find our own way.

You don't want to listen to my opinion, and that's fine. I'm happy to hear that lashing out at me made you feel better.

SophieLatulippeOuellet
SophieLatulippeOuellet

@tweet_fail @SophieLatulippeOuellet I am sure my reply will make me "unpopular" but since I am in the right place (forgive me Red!)  You seem to have absolutely no fuckin idea what it is to live with a person with disabilities or to have no knowledge of being disabled.  You are really annoying me with your "let's find a quick fix" attitude.  And your "they should have done this" and "they have done that".  Those people shouldn't have been born with a cognitive impairment just like I should not have been born with cerebral palsy.  Except, SHIT HAPPENS!!!! Voilà!

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